Customer Interaction: Creating Standards to Live By

March 6, 2018

When you get a chance, if you don’t already watch, check out any of Gordon Ramsay’s TV shows. From “Hells’ Kitchen” to “Kitchen Nightmares” to “Master Chef,” there is one common theme: consistency through standards. I can’t publish most comments that come out of Ramsay’s mouth, for he does tend to be “colorful” and speak his mind, but in between bleeps and blurred out middle fingers, the man is passionate about standards.

Exacting standards

Standards are essentially promises you make to every customer. “This is what I promise to you if you purchase X product.” It’s different from a warranty, it’s different from a how-to guide. It’s a promise for the exchange of the customer’s trust.

Standards are what your employees employ every single time a certain service is performed. The reason that is important? Most customers depend on predictability, especially in our industry. They generally don’t understand how a car works, or why things cost as much as they do, so they need a lot of consistency — things that keep them from freaking out and starting to imagine all the crazy things they sometimes believe might be happening when you put their car nine feet in the air.

Let’s break down a particular scenario to see how it works:

Customer: “How much for an oil change?”

Shop employee: “$59.99. I saw you drive in the silver car, right?”

Customer: “$59.99 for an oil change?”

Shop employee: “Yes, your car takes X oil and capacity Y quarts, blah, blah, blah...”

Customer: “Zzzzzz. I just got an oil change on my spouse’s car and it was only $39.99.”

And let the fighting begin. We can be as informational as possible, but if the customer isn’t listening, because they are wondering why the change in price is so stark, then why bother talking?

Let’s look at implementing some standards, in how we communicate, and see how the scenario changes.

Customer: “How much for an oil change?”

Shop employee offering the standard responses: 1) He will ask customers if they have been there before, and if not, what kind of car they drive. 2) He will ask every new customer if they are aware of the different kinds of oil changes you offer. “I see that you haven’t been to our location before, are you aware of the three oil change options we offer?”

Customer: “No, I just want a plain oil change... you know... cheap.”

Shop employee: “Sure, I can offer you our least expensive oil change. Every oil change we do consists of a quick test drive around the parking lot, a courtesy inspection of fluids and filters, replacement of the filter, draining of the old oil, and replacing it with the manufacturer’s recommended oil type. Then we run your car for two minutes to check for leaks, and we will return your car to you in about 45 minutes.”

Wait, wait, wait... who in the name of Harvey Firestone is going to go through all of that? It takes too long. It’s just an oil change! Yes, it is just an oil change, and yes, that conversation takes three minutes. You could rush through it and get the keys, scramble to get the car in, open the hood... and get loudly asked, “Why are you checking my tires? Why is that thing out of my car? Where did that (air filter) even come from?”

When we talk about standards, we talk about process, predictability, and making it easy for the customer. Sure, it may take a few minutes in the beginning, but those few minutes save us many minutes and avoid arguments.

Standards equal consistency

Standards also tell our employees what is expected of them. Many times, a shop assumes a technician knows how to do a brake job, but is there anything in writing telling them what’s expected?

This is where standards shine. Gordon Ramsey may be foul-mouthed, but he’s never put someone in a position to do a job where he hasn’t explicitly (in more than one way) told them how and what to do. When he gets angry, it’s usually because the person had agreed to do something a certain way and then did not meet expectations.

Standards are teachable. They are guides for employees. Not only do customers want predictability in their tire and automotive service, but so do employees.

Here’s a tip: Instead of trying to come up with standards for every job your shop performs, pick a handful to start. Oil change, tire replacement, brake job. Start simple. Include your employees. You’ll be surprised how eager they are to outline the expectations of a certain job.

And you will find, like Gordon Ramsay, you won’t need to be saying things like “%*&$ing s#!t d$%n&t!”    ■

Dennis McCarron is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., a company that manages multiple tire dealer 20 Groups in the U.S. ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].

To read more Business Insight columns by Dennis McCarron, click:

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